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MPLS Alternatives and the Benefits of SD-WAN
MPLS is still one of the most popular WAN technologies. In fact, MPLS ports accounted for 60% of WAN revenue for the 5,000 largest companies in the world in 2021, according to Telegeography. The market is shifting, however, with this expected to decline to only 27% by 2026. MPLS alternatives are becoming more prevalent.
In this article, we’ll define MPLS, explore alternatives to MPLS, and outline why an alternative to MPLS might be a fit for you. If you would like more information or pricing for MPLS alternatives, contact Brightlio. We would welcome the opportunity to partner with you.
What Is MPLS?
MPLS, or Multiprotocol Label Switching, is a private WAN service that routes traffic based on labels rather than source and destination addresses. In traditional IP networking, a router makes a forwarding decision based on the packet’s header. The forwarding of each packet is processed in each router’s memory via a memory table. This processing adds extra overhead that can lead to latency and performance degradation.
With MPLS, a forwarding equivalence class, or FEC, is appended to the front of each packet. The FEC label informs the routers how to route the traffic and the Class of Service (CoS) for each packet. Labeling offloads processing from the routers, thus improving the performance of the network. The label can also indicate that the data packet contains voice, video, or other latency-sensitive data and route traffic with priority.
MPLS connectivity can be purchased and fully managed by global MPLS network providers. You can also build your own MPLS network by purchasing, configuring, and maintaining MPLS-capable network infrastructure. MPLS services are deployed by organizations looking to efficiently and securely route traffic between central headquarters or colocation locations and branch offices.
An MPLS connection is also private, differentiating MPLS from broadband. Rather than traversing the public internet and relying on VPN (virtual private network) technology, MPLS is delivered by routing traffic over private tunnels. This not only improves performance but improves cybersecurity, as well.
MPLS bandwidths speeds range from 1.5 Mbps (called a T1), all they way to 10 Gbps or higher. Pricing increases with bandwidth.
Why You Should Consider MPLS Alternatives
MPLS creates paths between remote offices and a central data center in a hub and spoke architecture. This method is still relevant with the rise of unified communications and video conferencing, both of which require low-latency network connectivity.
However, more enterprise networks are moving away from a centralized hub and spoke architecture and are leveraging many more public cloud and SaaS applications. Sixty percent of corporate data now resides in the cloud. Additionally, the average company now uses 254 SaaS applications. With more apps, data, and users, identifying the best-predetermined paths for traffic can become challenging.
Because an MPLS architecture runs on a private wide area network, traffic to and from the originating from a branch must route from the branch to the hub, then back out through the branch. This adds traffic to the network and is inefficient. Some cloud providers offer MPLS solutions on their end, but it’s usually a costly alternative.
Is MPLS still used? The answer is yes, but MPLS networks are becoming less relevant with the proliferation of IT trends like cloud computing and SaaS.
SD-WAN: An Alternative to MPLS
The best alternative to MPLS is an SD-WAN network. SD-WAN is a virtual WAN architecture. It uses software to abstract the networking layer, allowing you to use varying connection types interchangeably. Connectivity options include MPLS, broadband, dedicated internet access (DIA), and LTE.
SD-WAN reduces costs by allowing customers to use cheaper broadband and LTE internet options rather than more expensive MPLS or dark fiber services. SD-WAN and SASE leader, Cato, estimates that customers can reduce networking costs by as much as 70%.
Additionally, SD-WAN is a more flexible architecture for multi-site deployments. In traditional WAN networks, traffic is backhauled to a central location like a colocation facility or headquarters. This topology leads to unnecessary network traffic and potential congestion.
SD-WAN’s software-based networking approach allows traffic to route via the most optimal path for the application. This improves performance while allowing businesses to leverage lower-cost connectivity.
There are several SD-WAN deployment models.
With an on-premise SD-WAN solution, you purchase and manage SD-WAN-capable appliances from providers like Fortinet, SilverPeak, or Cisco. An on-premise SD-WAN network gives you the same level of control as an on-premise MPLS network, as you control the hardware.
This option does require you to purchase hardware, so it’s a fit for customers that prefer a CAPEX deployment model. It also requires you to take ownership of managing the devices. If you do not have a team on staff with the technical capability, this function can be outsourced to a managed service provider.
A cloud-based SD-WAN network can be a good MPLS alternative. With this model, traffic routes through secure tunnels back to the SD-WAN provider’s cloud. They often directly connect to major cloud providers like AWS, Azure, Oracle, and Google for efficient cloud connectivity.
This is purely an OPEX model, and the service provider handles all of the management. Cato Networks is an example of a provider in this space. This technology is also being rebranded as SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) or SSE (Security Service Edge). These solutions layer additional security on top of the SD-WAN architecture, replacing the need for MPLS networks and expensive next-generation firewall appliances.
A Hybrid SD-WAN deployment combines SD-WAN services with traditional a traditional MPLS network. A hybrid approach allows latency-sensitive, inter-site traffic to be routed over an MPLS network, while cloud traffic is routed using SD-WAN. This is a good approach for businesses with a large corporate network footprint and numerous remote users.
Why You Should Consider an SD-WAN Network as an MPLS Alternative
Whether you host it on-premise or in the cloud, an SD-WAN network remains one of the best alternatives to MPLS for the following reasons:
More Connectivity Options
Since an MPLS architecture relies on a physical network, you can only route traffic through your WAN.
SD-WAN is a much more versatile solution that allows you to implement the same networking rules over many types of connections.
You can optimize bandwidth and apply your network settings over the connection provided by your ISP. Still, you can extend these rules to public Wi-Fi networks, mobile networks, and satellite connections. No matter where users are or which device they use, you can provide a fast and reliable connection while ensuring data packets follow your safety rules.
Being able to control traffic over several networks is an advantage as more businesses adopt remote work policies. It improves performance and security for employees who work from home and allows users to access your resources and leverage unified communications solutions safely as they travel or work from remote areas.
MPLS performance depends on the amount of bandwidth available for a predetermined path. As long as the current traffic level doesn’t exceed the capability of a path, users should have access to a fast and reliable connection.
However, if the volume of data packets with the audio call or mission-critical label suddenly increases, users will likely see their speed drop as the path becomes congested.
As IT infrastructures become more complex, the fastest route can change based on current usage. Since SD-WAN networks rely on software, you can implement an intelligent tool that monitors traffic patterns in real-time and calculates the best route for data packets. This approach reduces your IT team’s workload while making your network more responsive.
For instance, an SD-WAN architecture can look at individual application requirements to find the best route for data packets from a specific application. This networking solution can also route traffic based on current bandwidth utilization and use alternate routes to prevent packet loss when congestion and bottlenecks occur.
Access More Bandwidth
MPLS networks operate with a set amount of bandwidth. You’ll have to upgrade your network or lease more bandwidth from your MPLS service provider as your network grows.
Adding bandwidth is easier with an SD-WAN architecture. You can aggregate WAN circuits and use multiple parallel connections simultaneously to increase your networking capacity. You can also leverage lower-cost broadband or LTE connectivity.
Your SD-WAN network will grow with your organization as you add more users, deploy more apps, leverage more voice and video communication, and extend connectivity to more locations.
Hardware and Cost Considerations
MPLS architectures use edge routers to assign labels to a data packet. Depending on your network configuration, you can use a label switch router, label edge router, or provider router. These routers require individual configurations to route traffic properly.
SD-WAN networks allow you to centralize configuration, which makes it easier to deploy new hardware, use backup devices, and extend your network.
Overall, SD-WAN architectures have lower costs linked to purchasing and configuring hardware. This makes SD-WAN a more affordable MPLS alternative.
Experts believe cloud computing spending will go up by 20% in 2023. As more businesses adopt a cloud-first IT strategy, relying on the cloud services becomes crucial for gaining a competitive advantage.
It’s technically possible to route traffic to and from the cloud with an MPLS network if you route traffic through a central data center. Realistically speaking, this model increases your MPLS cost and will cause significant congestion at your central data center.
SD-WAN networks are one of the best MPLS alternatives because this model allows you to connect directly between users and cloud-based resources. With the software overlay in place, you can still apply your network configuration and safety rules when users connect to the cloud. Still, end-user devices benefit from a fast and reliable connection to these resources.
Adopting cloud-based solutions is one of the main reasons for switching to an SD-WAN architecture.
Did you know that two-thirds of businesses experienced a breach in 2021? Between hackers, malware, and human errors, it’s more important than ever to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity plan that can protect you from a wide range of risks.
An MPLS network has a few advantages regarding cybersecurity because this networking model gives you control over the paths that data packets follow. You can label some data as sensitive and route it through a VPN tunnel to encrypt and protect it. MPLS also has the advantage of being a private network.
However, data packets that travel over your MPLS network can contain anything as long as they can fool your MPLS routers into assigning a label. Malware can spread through your MPLS network once it gets past a router. You can make your MPLS network safer by adding a firewall and an antivirus, but these are additional steps you’ll have to take when configuring your network.
SD-WAN networks aren’t necessarily safer, but it’s easier to address vulnerabilities by building a software overlay that includes cybersecurity tools. One of the main advantages of SD-WAN technology is that you can monitor and analyze traffic in real time. There are intelligent network monitoring tools that can detect unusual traffic patterns and analyze the content of the data packets traveling over your network.
These monitoring solutions can detect a DDoS attack in its early stages, flag a user downloading large amounts of sensitive data, or scan your network for malicious code. You can also combine SD-WAN technology with a VPN solution if it suits your needs.
MPLS and SD-WAN both have vulnerabilities, but it’s easier to take a proactive approach and leverage modern cybersecurity solutions with an SD-WAN network.
With the business continuity market growing by more than 15% annually, resilience has become a priority for many organizations.
Internet connectivity is a crucial business tool, and any viable business continuity plan needs to account for possible outages. A network outage might cause your entire business to stop. It can lead to a loss of revenues and a poor customer experience if you deliver a digital service.
It’s possible to make an MPLS link more resilient by adding redundant circuits. If a path is down, the MPLS router can send traffic over a backup circuit. However, this approach can be complex and costly since you must add circuits that you will use only occasionally.
An SD-WAN architecture is more flexible and cost-effective for business continuity. You can leverage inexpensive broadband or 4G/5G/LTE connections as backups. SD-WAN will automatically failover to the backup circuit in an outage. You can also run your primary and backup circuits in an active/active topology, increasing bandwidth capacity.
A managed service provider can also help improve business continuity for SD-WAN. SD-WAN managed services are offered by the best MPLS suppliers and SD-WAN providers.
Many businesses are still using MPLS networks, but this networking technology is only sometimes the best fit for organizations that rely on cloud-based solutions. SD-WAN architectures are one of the best MPLS alternatives for faster application delivery since these networks allow you to route traffic more elegantly.
Plus, an SD-WAN network can help reduce costs linked to your IT infrastructure while delivering superior performance thanks to a more flexible approach to routing data packets.
If you’re looking for an MPLS replacement, Brightlio can help replace your legacy architecture and save you money. Brightlio can offer SD-WAN solutions and numerous internet connectivity options from our network of global partners. Additionally, we are experts in colocation, public cloud services, and unified communications, so that we can address many of your IT needs.
Get started with Brightlio today!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy our comparison of MPLS vs Broadband.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between SD-WAN versus MPLS?
SD-WAN and MPLS are both technologies used for managing WANs, but they differ in several ways. MPLS is a protocol for efficient network routing, often used by large businesses due to its reliability, but it’s costly and lacks the flexibility of newer technologies. SD-WAN is a software-defined approach that provides network agility, cost efficiency, and easier management. It uses the internet to connect locations, can work over multiple types of connectivity (like broadband, LTE, etc.), and offers intelligent path selection and application prioritization.
Does SD-WAN deliver the lowest cost internet?
SD-WAN often provides a more cost-effective solution compared to traditional WAN technologies like MPLS because it utilizes less expensive internet connections such as broadband, 4G/LTE, and can better utilize available bandwidth. However, the cost of an SD-WAN solution also includes the expenses of SD-WAN appliances, necessary network upgrades, licensing fees, and management and maintenance costs. Thus, when comparing SD-WAN vs MPLS, you must consider more than just the cost of the connection.
How do managed managed service providers enhance SD-WAN performance?
Managed service providers enhance SD-WAN performance by leveraging the services of the best managed MPLS providers and network operations centers (NOCs). Fully managed MPLS service providers offer robust, high-quality connectivity which serves as a backbone for SD-WAN, ensuring the efficient and reliable transfer of data across the network.
Concurrently, NOCs contribute to the performance by providing continuous network monitoring, proactive incident management, and on-demand troubleshooting. By seamlessly integrating these elements, managed service providers can deliver a high-performing, secure, and resilient SD-WAN that can adapt to the changing business needs.
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